Loss of the Sealing Power


While in a sacred place a month ago a friend asked what I thought about “Passing the Heavenly Gift.” I confess that I had not heard of the book or the author, Denver Snuffer. I assume he asked my opinion because he knows that I have reviewed similar books on my blog that focus on controversial issues facing the LDS Church. Denver’s books are not advertised. People learn about them only by word of mouth or through online reviews on sites like mine.

I purchased the book and posted on Facebook that I had done so. Several of my blogging buddies noted it and expressed interest in what I thought. A few days later after my first quick read-through, I wrote “I speed read the first half. Finding no major faults, I devoured the second half (pages 240 to 499) in about four hours. I haven’t stayed up until 2:30 in the morning to read a book in years.” There is something dramatically different about this book.

Don’t leave the church

I also reported that “My focus in reading was to find anything smacking of disloyalty to the brethren or encouraging the members to leave. He came close on the first point but completely negated my concern on the second.” Before I write anything else I want to focus on that second point. I am convinced that Denver Snuffer has his reader’s best interest at heart. I cannot say that about the authors of any other recent book of LDS History I have read. Denver wants us to stay in the Church.

However, Denver Snuffer has caused me to do something no other recent writer of Mormon history has been able to do. He has produced in me a desire to read his book again and again. I want to study it, to research it, to look up many of the quotes, to read what others have said about those quotes. In other words, I am taking seriously Denver’s claims which, although not all unique to his book, are argued more precisely and effectively than any other author I have encountered.

Receive the Second Comforter

I have just completed the second reading of the book and am starting on the third, this time with pen and highlighter in hand. I have read his first book, “The Second Comforter” twice and have purchased each of the intervening six books. I have invested hours reading Denver’s blog from start to finish and have contemplated each of the points he has made there over the years. Other than the scriptures, I have never invested this much time in trying to understand an author’s message.

Everything I have learned about Denver has caused me to contemplate his message more and more. He has asked that we not focus on him, his life or his background. He has asked that we pay attention more to the process he is trying to get us to pass through – a process that if we follow through to completion will have us receive The Second Comforter for ourselves. I like that. I want that. I endorse that. How can you fault a man for wanting to help you come unto Christ? I don’t.

Details lacking in faith-promoting history

In the meantime, you are going to have to pass through some very difficult realizations that, depending on the strength of your relationship with the things of the spirit, may leave you gasping and reaching for help and understanding. If you are not already familiar with things our detractors have written about us you will have a challenging time reading this book. It will make you angry. It will cause you to think of Mr. Snuffer as an apostate and wonder why he hasn’t been excommunicated.

This book is not for everybody. If you are a casual member of the church you will not be interested. If you are not familiar with some of the controversies about our history being discussed on the Internet today, you will be a little shocked at what you read. You may not understand why some of the issues are problems at all if all you have ever learned about our history is what you were taught in Sunday school, Primary, Seminary or even Institute. This is an alternative view of our history.

Sealing power has been lost

I wish I was at the point where I could say that I can vouch for Denver’s accuracy or that I agree with his interpretations. I am not there yet. I suspect it will take me years to arrive at that level. In the meantime, if you have already read Denver’s works, I want to hear from you. I am especially interested in discussion about the two most controversial arguments in his book – the idea that the sealing power is not on the earth at this time and Denver’s interpretation of the fullness of the priesthood.

<Update 4-29-12> Denver has posted on his blog that “I have never said the church does not have the sealing power.” This obviously is in direct conflict with the thesis of this essay and my (and my wife’s) interpretation of the first chapter of his book, especially this line: “The church and its ordinations and ordinances does not confer power.” (p 36) He’s right. He did not say the church does not have the sealing power. Carol and I did not clearly understand the message of his first chapter. <end of update>

I kept looking for Denver to address the implications of the position he is advocating in regards to the work we are doing in the temples. I confess I have so far been disappointed by the lack of a sympathetic discussion of what this means to the thousands, if not millions of members who have spent so much of their time and energy over the years in researching and performing proxy ordinances in the temples for their ancestors. I am one of those individuals and want to know his response.

The work in the temples

In other words, if the sealing power is not on the earth then what hope do my wife and I have that we will be united in the eternities? If the sealing power is not on the earth, then what in the world have I and my mother and sisters been doing for these past forty years in digging and corresponding and compiling the thousands and thousands of family names ensuring that their work was done in the temples? I see this as the single most important issue to be answered.

Because I am so intrigued by what I have learned so far, I am going to give Denver the benefit of the doubt that he has already answered this question satisfactorily and I have simply not yet found it. I am not like some of my online friends who have become disaffected and left the church then complain about how much they resented the loss of their tithing money or that they felt duped when they learned they had been teaching a “sanitized” version of our history.

Section 110 misinterpreted

This idea of the sealing power is central to my feelings about the church and core to the reason why I have spent so many thousands of hours in the temple over the past thirty-five years. No, I don’t feel that my time was wasted if what Denver claims about section 110 is true. Of all the things that could strike at the heart and soul of Mormonism this is it. If you want to hurt a whole lot of good people, tell them that the the work they have been doing in the temples is not valid.

There is one question I would like to ask Denver, but I won’t because I don’t know him and he has made it clear that he gets far too many requests to answer directly. Because I felt strongly about sharing what I was learning from Denver’s books, I asked Carol to read the fist chapter of “Passing the Heavenly Gift” to me as we drove to Southern Utah for a family vacation this weekend. We had one of the most deep and enjoyable gospel discussions we have ever had over the course of several hours.

Exaltation is a family affair

Carol came away from the reading with the distinct impression that Denver was saying that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is today no different than any other good Christian church. She read that Brigham Young was only elected to be the President of the Church and that there was no ordination that passed the keys of the kingdom to him or to any of the rest of the twelve. She related her feelings while as a missionary she was taught by her mission president that Joseph ordained and passed the keys of the kingdom on to the twelve before they left on their missions.

Denver, what would you say to my wife, who related while she stood at the Far West temple site with dozens of other missionaries how she felt the spirit bear witness to her soul that Joseph successfully passed the keys of the kingdom on to the apostles before he sent them away on their missions and went on to Carthage jail to seal his testimony with his blood? Would you say that Joseph wasn’t referring to the council of the twelve, but to the council of fifty?

An incomplete ordination

What Denver is writing about is serious business. He is apparently all about getting people to question what they have been taught and what they believe about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He says he wants to bring us to Christ but in the process he wants us to rethink what we have been taught and what we believe about the power of priesthood and how it is manifested in our lives. He says the temple will point us to Christ yet says the sealing power is not there.

Am I the first to see the implications of what he is teaching? I don’t think so. Tell me I’m wrong or that I’ve missed the point completely. Tell me that all the thousands of temple workers, so many of them my good friends, are not wasting their time laboring in temples that have been rejected. Tell me that the blessings I have given to my wife and so many others over the years are efficacious even though I have not had my ordination completed by having the Lord lay his hands upon my head.

Receiving the Heavenly Gift

I am not a lawyer, so I can never argue as well as Denver has done. I am a simple member of the church, happy in my faith and grateful to have lived my life in the orthodox manner as taught by my leaders. I have served a mission, been married in the temple, served in bishoprics and high councils for the past twenty-five years and generally loved my time associating with saints of the Lord, who Denver is now calling a fallen and proud people, members of an apostate gentile church.

What do you think? Has Denver taught the truth in his book, “Passing the Heavenly Gift” or is he an apostate like some have declared him to be? Is it worth my time to read the rest of his books? Is there a whole lot more that I don’t see yet that will prove Denver to be right? Perhaps I need to re-read his first book again and put the process to the test as he is asking us to do. Is Denver teaching that we need to do in our homes what we are taught in the temple to converse with the Lord through the veil?

I would love to read your opinions.

In Defense of Virtue Ethics


Of the “Big Three” moral philosophies, virtue ethics seems to be the most problematic. Criticisms and rebuttals of the other two theories, utilitarianism and deontology, are relatively simple to state and understand, or at least I found them so. On the other hand, I was able to easily compile a dozen criticisms of virtue ethics from a very few professional papers on the subject in a short amount of time. That intrigued me. In this paper I intend to defend virtue ethics as the best moral philosophy by addressing several of the excellent criticisms.

The theory is straight-forward: Moral life should have a purpose and lead to happiness. Virtue ethics is about building character. Developing good moral character leads to contentment that comes from “doing the right thing.” This moral theory is not about rules or something called “utility.” Virtue ethics requires a lifetime of practice to develop. The way to become a moral person is to be moral. This theory is more about being or becoming, not so much about doing. It’s about who you are. The concept of the “mean” is crucial to this philosophy. The focus is on balance, moderation and avoiding extremes. Aristotle taught in order to achieve a virtuous and potentially happy character, we must first be taught by teachers and by experience. Later, we then consciously choose to do the best or virtuous things when presented with moral choices. This requires a lot of pondering of our choices and ultimately, feeling about things in a certain way. It is this feeling which causes, motivates or empowers virtuous or good actions.

Perhaps it is this component of feeling that raises such criticism. Those who practice virtue ethics are seeking eudemonia (Greek), a state meaning well-being, blessedness, or for our purposes, a state of human flourishing. That makes it hard to measure and hard to determine when such a state has been reached. How can virtue ethics be useful in a society if the objective is so subjective to the individual? This is just one of the criticisms I will address in this essay. Of course, just because a theory has legitimate criticisms does not negate the value of the theory, especially if favorable rebuttals can be presented. I am going to assume you are familiar with the theory beyond the basics presented in the preceding paragraph and will therefore focus on the rebuttals as the core of the argument advocating my position.

Let’s address the applicability problem right up front. What sorts of actions are morally permitted and which ones are not? What sorts of measureable outcomes are desired with virtue ethics? What are the duties or rules of virtue ethics that can be used in specific moral situations? The difficulty in this objection is that it focuses on a lower functioning level of human nature – having to be told what to do in all situations. Such a lower level is indicative of immaturity. Virtue ethics works best as one seeks to do the virtuous thing partly by avoiding vices. Let’s take the specific example of a raped fifteen year old girl trying to decide whether or not to have an abortion. The moral guidance of virtue ethics would have her avoid vices such as selfishness, irresponsibility or short-sightedness. Abortion is a personal choice but has consequences that reach far beyond the individual. Adoption is an alternative to abortion. Virtue ethics provides moral guidance in this situation by allowing the young mother a choice. She can make a very difficult situation better by applying the moral guidance afforded by seeking the virtues of love, patience, unselfishness, forgiveness, tolerance, kindness and charity. She may choose to raise the child herself but is probably not yet suited to provide the child the best care. She can have the abortion but perhaps she has strong feelings that she might regret her decision. Action guidance from virtue ethics allows her to choose to endure the unwanted pregnancy and give the child up for adoption as being a better choice. The criticism that virtue ethics does not provide action guidance in specific moral situations demonstrates an unwillingness to think things through, weigh the alternatives and make a choice, a process that rule-based systems don’t do well.

Now let’s address the cultural relativity problem. This is not unique to virtue ethics, but seems to be made less difficult by the unique aspects of this theory. You are probably familiar with the example of the differences in how some societies treat their dead. With virtue ethics, we can readily see that something abhorrent to Western civilization like cooking and eating a piece of flesh from your recently deceased grandmother might actually be an acceptable practice because it embodies the virtue of honoring your ancestors. Such a virtue is applicable to most cultures even though we may disagree with the way a specific culture implements it. Another example is the idea of slave-holding. In some cultures it was considered morally acceptable, even virtuous to enslave human beings. Virtue ethics does not necessarily require a static ranking of virtues over time. In the slave-holding example, there is an obvious conflict of virtues at work, which in the minds of some, justified the vice of enslaving another human being against their will (I’ll address the conflict problem and justification problem next). Virtue ethics embraces the idea of community. Our values are determined in large part by the communities to which we belong: nation, family, school, church and private and public associations. We accept that some virtues will hold a greater influence upon us according to the time and place in which we live. We are social animals, grounded in a particular place and time. The ethos of our society shapes our moral views and moral activity. The application of virtue ethics allows for the influence of our community to determine the ranking of our values according to our circumstances.

A good moral system must address dilemmas. The requirements of different virtues can bring about conflict because they seemingly point to different courses of action. However, this conflict is only apparent and can be resolved by those possessed with phronesis, translated as practical wisdom. This wisdom comes only with time and through practice, which of course means making mistakes. In reality, virtues do not make opposing demands. One course of action, which some may consider a rule, may outrank another in a particular case. Or it may be that there is an exception to a standard course of action based on the specific circumstances of a moral choice at hand. Over time, the practitioner of virtue ethics will come to know instinctively, or by a feeling, what is the right course of action in this situation. Since the complexities of every dilemma cannot be determined in advance, virtue ethics teaches the skills needed to study the problem out, ponder the choices and make the best decision. At first, this is difficult and prone to mistakes, but over time, it becomes second nature to know the best course of action.

I only have room to address one other criticism of virtue ethics known as the justification problem. In short, how do we justify or ground our ethical beliefs of what is moral? Which of all the character traits are the virtues? Perhaps this is where the idea of the mean comes into play. We can make lists of all kinds of character traits and then note the extremes of each end. While this may be an exercise to teach the skill for the uninitiated, I do not recommend it as a regular course of action. At one end of the spectrum is excessiveness, while the other end represents deficiency. For the virtue of courage we have recklessness and cowardice. For the virtue of work, we can consider laziness on one end and frenetic on the other. The Golden Mean is the virtue that is to be found in between two corresponding vices. As virtue ethicists, our objective is to be somewhere in the middle. Plato gave us the four Cardinal Virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Aristotle then added five additional virtues of wisdom, courage, liberality, magnificence and magnanimity. There is no master list of virtues because it could never be all-inclusive. This moral theory is not grounded in a list of rules, desired outcomes or even specific virtues, but rather on the idea of balance, moderation and avoiding extremes. Virtue ethics is grounded on a skill of how to choose wisely, which only comes with practice over time.

In conclusion, it is my contention that virtue ethics is a superior moral system because it is more flexible and embraces a wider range of possibilities than rule-based or outcome-based systems, mainly because of the central component of endorsing agent-based choice as the best way to guide one’s life. Just because a person is continent or falls short of a perfect virtue does not negate the value of virtue ethics. There is something particularly admirable about people who manage to act well when it is especially hard for them to do so. They may not yet have achieved eudemonia, but they are still practicing, which is a major part of the theory of virtue ethics. They may fall short of the ideal again and again but continue to seek the goal of perfection through an ever-so-slightly different approach. This may seem repetitive or even counter-productive, but perhaps that is part of the beauty of the theory. Eventually, given sufficient time and effort and with encouragement from teachers and leaders, practice will pay off. The performance will be complete and the practitioner of virtue ethics will reap the benefits of a moral life well lived.

We Have Limited Free Will


We have limited free will. Within certain limitations, we can make choices and act upon those choices. Our choices are partially controlled and determined by outside forces and by the laws of physics. But we have agency to act within certain bounds of natural laws that exist. We can exercise that agency, make choices and act upon those choices. Logic dictates there is no purpose or meaning to life if we do not have some free will. We instinctively know we have power to act in some things without constraint of necessity or fate. We are bound or limited by physics but we are independent agents within our sphere of influence. We intuitively think or feel we are free. We therefore act at our own discretion. We are capable of responding to random chance with purposeful choices. Thus we can be held morally responsible and accountable for our choices and actions in both the deterministic world of physics and the indeterminate world of observable quantum mechanics that we are still discovering.

Absolute free will is logically incompatible with determinism because we do not control the universe. However, as individuals, we are able to take more than one possible course of action in any given scenario. There are obvious choices in life we can choose to follow. We can conceive and believe things. This proves some free will even though there are limitations on the choices available to us. For example, because I am not a fish, I do not have the choice of living underwater without some sort of breathing apparatus. It is determined beforehand that human life is incompatible with living unaided under water. I am therefore limited to certain pre-determined boundaries if I want to sustain life. In like manner, in some situations I have a limited number of choices I can make because of the randomness of life. I hope I never have to decide what to do if I am in a plane that is about to crash. I would have no control of the physics causing the plane to crash, but I still have some obvious choices I can make and act upon, like remain calm or panic.

As an argument against any kind of free will, consider the views of hard determinism. Determinists believe that our thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviors are all predetermined from the moment that time began at the big bang. A determinist advocates that we do not have any control over the state of the universe or the laws that govern the universe. Free will is an illusion, they say. You may think that your choices and actions have an effect on the universe but you are really no more than an observer. For a determinist, free will is a nothing more than a necessary delusion that allows us to build a society where praise and punishment actually mean something. Compatibilists hold individuals morally responsible for their actions as if they had free will. Although it doesn’t really exist, they say, we can act as if it does, thus providing a necessary condition for moral responsibility – accountability.

Following this logic, the universe is deterministic and bound by the laws of physics. Our bodies are bound by those same laws. If you are a materialist, you believe that all behavior is caused by chemical brain states outside of our control. In order for free will to exist, there must be a supernatural agent that is not bound by those laws to inject an input from outside the system; in other words, a God. I wish I could develop this further, but for now I will propose that there are only two arguments against free will. First, if determinism is the true state of things, then the will is not free because all events are caused and our actions are predetermined. Therefore, there is no moral responsibility or free will. The second argument against free will is indeterminism of random events or chance. If all our actions are caused by chance then we have no control, and therefore, again, no free will or moral responsibility. True free will requires we have control of outcomes. However, we do not control the universe or the laws of physics. If you think about it, we control nothing of this world or the universe. To prove free will, we must prove that we can control at least some things, thus becoming independent agents with power to act.

I don’t disagree with all the views of materialists or determinists. In fact, I readily concur with determinists that the laws of the universe are outside our control. I also concur that a large part of our body processes are apparently outside the control of at least our conscious mind and will. I can’t control the motion of the planets, the effects of nature, or prevent myself from dying someday. These things are determined. My bounds are set in these matters and many others. I also concur with indeterminism as it relates to many of the choices with which I am presented in this life. So many things are just random and purely by chance. I come across an object on the freeway that gives me a flat tire. It was pure chance that I happened to come upon that object and embed it in my tire first because I just happened to be there at that place and at that time. Random chance is just part of this life. So many things – most things – are out of my control.

So what do I control? There are many things over which I have control and thus free will. I control my responses to the choices I am presented in life. I can control my thoughts. I can control the things I put into my body. I control the things I say and the things I do. Nobody forces me to act a certain way or respond in a specific manner. I control my attitudes and my beliefs. I decide what I will do with my time, who I will go visit, what work I will do, what I choose to study. I may not choose many of the things that happen to me in this life but I can and do choose how I respond to those situations. I determine the character I build by using my free will adequately. My free will is limited to those things over which I have some control and have choices. I do not have free will when it comes to the laws of physics and nature. They are out of my control. In the things over which I do have control such as thoughts, beliefs and opinions I choose what I want to think about or believe. My thoughts are not caused and are not random. They are purposeful and demonstrate free will, especially when I act upon them. Therefore, my conclusion is that we have limited or adequate determinism and limited but genuine free will.

How Americans View Mormonism


We spent an hour with Gary Lawrence last night. He was gracious enough to come up to visit our stake in Camarillo from his home in Orange County. Dr. Lawrence is an American opinion pollster who also happens to be a Latter-day Saint. He has been travelling around the church sharing the results of a poll he conducted in the spring of 2007 on American’s perception of Latter-day Saints in the United States.

He published a book in 2008 with the findings of his poll, How Americans View Mormonism: Seven Steps to Improve Our Image. Dr. Lawrence received a PhD in communications psychology from Stanford University in 1972. He said that of over twenty doctoral candidates in his group, he was the only LDS, Republican, conservative hawk among them. So he knows a little about being in the minority.

Lawrence Research

Now if you know anything about recent events in California, you’ll recognize that Gary’s business, Lawrence Research was the opinion polling company that was heavily involved in Proposition 8. Gary was also the state LDS grassroots director for the Protect Marriage coalition. Brother Lawrence, who has served as a bishop has spent over 35 years studying opinions and behaviors of the American public.

From the results of his survey, Dr. Lawrence maintains that the misconceptions, distortions, and untruths being told about Mormons have slowed the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that the average member is best positioned to turn things around. By the way, the name of his next book, due from Deseret Book later this year is “What Part of Our Name Don’t You Understand?”

Survey Results

For me, the most interesting result of the survey was that our perceived image is upside down. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable impression of Mormons. Only thirty-seven percent had a favorable impression. They say that we have weird beliefs and are secretive. Yet they also say we are good neighbors, hard workers, believe in clean living, have high moral standards and help others.

Lawrence said that thirty-seven percent of all Americans do not know a Mormon, and fifty-five percent of all Americans do not know an active Mormon. In fact, those who know one Mormon have a worse opinion of us than those who do not know any Mormons. We are viewed unfavorably more than Jews or Baptists (3.5 to 1) and Catholics (2 to 1). Mormons, less than 1 to 1. That’s a terrible ratio.

Negative Image

Simple ignorance is often blamed for Mormonism’s negative image, but Gary also concludes that it is driven by fear — fear of a supposed political agenda, wealth, organizational ability, unwavering doctrine, and a unique vocabulary that is often misunderstood. He gave some wonderful examples but I’ll have to defer in sharing some of the better ones until I receive his book that I ordered from Deseret Book.

His book explains that individual members in their daily interactions with others are the key. In his presentation, which he has probably delivered dozens of times, he pointed out that friendly and natural conversations, the facts, simple claims, individual latitude, non-threatening invitations and gentle mentoring are the ways Mormons can combat distortions, improve our image, and spread the gospel.

Unique Vocabulary

A central claim of our church is that we have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Gary explained that this phrase is not well understood by those outside our faith. They equate the word restore as something you do to an old car or a piece of old furniture. He suggested that a better phrase to use would be: “We claim to be the re-established Christian Church.” I like that. It is simpler and easier to understand.

He even broke it down for us into three bite-sized pieces: 1) Christ organized a church. 2) Men changed it and 3) It has been brought back. Amazingly, 84 percent of Americans have had exposure to our church, yet only 14 percent can tell you that this is our main differentiating claim from other Christian churches. While people may not agree with our claim, we want and need them to understand it.

Meaning of Gospel

They can then decide for themselves how they will respond to that claim. But if they never get the real message, how can they make a legitimate choice? Naturally, some people will reject the gospel truth once it has been presented to them. And that’s another word that we use differently from the rest of Christianity. To us, the gospel means more than the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter and Paul.

Most Mormons equate gospel to mean the overarching plan of happiness that was presented in our pre-earth life. We have come to see the gospel as more than just a theology, but as a way of life, and that it encompasses all truth that we embrace. But in reality, the gospel is the good news of the doctrine of Christ, that all will be resurrected and that we can be forgiven of sins through repentance and ordinances.

Higher Education

That’s why we can say that the fullness of the gospel is contained in the Book of Mormon even though there are many additional doctrines we believe that are only found outside the Book or Mormon. In fact, some within our church have gone so far as to claim that obtaining a degree of higher education is a part of the gospel. Does that mean that early saints and prophets without a B.A. degree are not saved?

Of course not; that would be a ridiculous example. While we believe in continuing education and encourage our members to get all the education we can, an advanced degree is not a requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. A high school diploma is not required. There is no requirement for any type of certified education to meet God’s conditions to enter into his kingdom; only obedience to his laws.

Mormon Scholars Testify

In our Mormon culture, besides placing great emphasis on education, we also hold those who have received advanced degrees and yet remained faithful in very high esteem. Dr. Lawrence has shared his testimony in greater detail on the website, Mormon Scholars Testify, which was created by another visitor to our stake, Dr. Daniel C. Petersen, speaking about BYU’s involvement in the Dead Sea scrolls.

My fellow blogger Steve Faux introduced me to the site a few years back when he was asked to share his thoughts and feelings about being a believing Mormon who teaches evolution at the University level. I have watched participation grow over the years until there are now more than 200 testimonies recorded there. Compare that to twenty being promoted on the opposing site Ex-Mormon scholars testify.

Opposition in All Things

One of our fundamental doctrines is that we believe there must be opposition in all things. I love the Internet for the very reason that it allows us to see the very best and the very worst of the extremes on just about any issue. I’m not a scholar and will probably never have an advanced degree, but I have come to appreciate both sides of the debate on controversial subjects I have written about over the years.

I can judge for myself when someone is presenting the truth in a distorted manner because I have been counseled over the years to study things out and come to my own conclusions about the truth of an issue. Some things can never be proven and will have to wait until the next life to determine who is right and who is wrong. That’s one of the purposes of life – to exercise faith and choose what we believe.

Choose What We Believe

I recommend you read the testimonies of Dr. Lawrence, Dr. Petersen, S. Faux and any others that you may recognize. They come from a variety of disciplines such as the Arts, Business, Management, Accounting, History, Religion, Social Science, Language, Literature, Law, Medicine, Psychology, Philosophy, Science, Mathematics and Engineering. Yes, Mormons believe in the value of education.

I hope this helps to dispel any misconceptions that Mormons are ignorant, closed-minded, brain-washed or uneducated. We do not follow our leaders blindly, nor do we worship our prophets, living or dead. But we do value loyalty and respect to those who we sustain as prophets and apostles. It is my testimony that they are leading us to Christ. I choose to follow their direction and counsel for my family.

For a great discussion of our image, or rather reputation, listen to what Michael Otterson had to say to Robert Millet on this episode of Mormon Identity on The Mormon Channel.

Thoughtful Discussion of Controversial Topics


I’ve been doing some critical thinking about a couple of recent statements made by J. Michael Bailey. He is the Northwestern psychology professor who has been the subject of so much media attention due to the live sex demonstration in his human sexuality classroom last month. You can Google the story if you want the details.

What intrigued me was the challenging nature of the defensive statements he offered when the story became public knowledge. He said that he didn’t expect everyone to agree with his decision to allow the demonstration to take place and that “thoughtful discussion of controversial topics is a cornerstone of learning.”

I happen to be enrolled in a critical thinking class right now so this idea caught my attention. While I don’t agree with his decision, I do agree with his statement. So I expected someone to take him up on his challenge, because he offered it as such. Maybe it is too soon but I have yet to see a serious response to his justification.

An Argument to Illuminate Reasoning

A couple of days after the story broke, professor Bailey continued his defense by saying that he would give an F to those who objected to his teaching method. He wrote that the responses conveyed disapproval but did not “illuminate reasoning.” Apparently he has yet to receive an explanation as to why his demo was a problem.

I hope someone with more knowledge of this subject will respond to his proposal for a thoughtful discussion and offer a few reasons why his demonstration was not the best choice. I’m looking for arguments that will illuminate reasoning and do more than to just express disapproval. I could use it when I argue this in my class.

The Man who would be Queen

A little more background information on professor Baily might be helpful.  He wrote and published a controversial book in 2003, The Man who would be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. He admitted that he had sex with his research subjects and said he thought there was nothing wrong with this.

Coincidently, about that same year he found himself divorced and no longer the chair of the psychology department at Northwestern University. According to published reports from students, he is not a great lecturer, but makes up for it by presenting extremely controversial aspects of human sexuality in his classroom.

Teaching Should Benefit Society

I love to teach so maybe this is an area in which we can agree. Professor Bailey is an educator; therefore I’ll assume that it is his intent to help his students learn. As a professor of psychology, I would hope that it is his desire to prevent psychological damage in his students. After all, isn’t that the objective of studying the subject?

We study human behavior to understand it and to be able to deal more effectively with activities that are disturbing, distressing or problematic for the individual or society. For most practitioners, a goal of applied psychology is to benefit society. A university professor is in a particularly influential position upon civilization.

Pornography in the Classroom

Professor Bailey said he uses pornography in his classroom. “I don’t see anything wrong with showing pornography in the classroom provided it has some purpose in the class. Some can be a little explicit,” he said. “I teach the truth – as I understand it…[which] sometimes conflicts with people’s assumptions. That is controversial.”

Bill Yarber, a researcher at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute and author of the widely used textbook Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America, said he’s never heard of a naked woman being brought to orgasm in front of a class of students. Watching a video is one thing but seeing a live demo is pushing things.

A commentary from a Catholic blogger about this episode illustrates a typical reaction, “Professor J. Michael Bailey’s Human Sexuality class has nothing to do with psychosexual development, morality, biology — nothing worthy of study; just an excuse for presenting risqué and deviant sexual behaviors as normative.”

Sexual Relations Should be Private

It is my contention that demonstrating the use of a motorized phallus to a group of students is not a legitimate form of sexual education, especially in the classroom. In fact, I will go so far as to say that viewing of pornographic material is equally inappropriate and unnecessary to meet the requirements of human sex education.

I believe that sexual relations should be expressed privately in marriage, between a husband and wife. I therefore believe that all public displays of sexual activity are inappropriate. I believe that pornography is harmful and destructive to the souls of those who create it and those who consume it. It is not needed for sexual education.

Professor Bailey’s demonstration was controversial because as far as I can tell, it was the first time live sex has been used in a classroom setting. But the real issue is how diametrically opposed this is to the values of virtue, modesty and respect for human sexual relations. It is degrading and cheapens it to something undesirable.

Achieving a Fulfilling Love

I think the comment of a student studying to be a therapist who then reported on her human sexuality class says it best for me. She stated that she had become a sexual zombie; that sex meant nothing to her because she had tried it all. She found no joy in sexuality. And yet she wants to become a therapist to fix others like her.

Pornography is any material describing or depicting the human body or sexual conduct in a way that arouses sexual feelings. Pornography degrades the heart, mind and spirit. It robs us of self-respect and the sense of beauties of life. It tears us down and does not lift us up. It does not help us achieve fulfilling human love.

I will be leading a classroom discussion of this current event in my critical thinking class in a few weeks. When I shared my subject with the professor he was pleased and said that I might be surprised to learn how many in the class feel the same way I do. That would be a pleasant discovery that I hope is not limited to my college.

An Evening with Richard Bushman


About a thousand other people and I enjoyed an evening with Richard Bushman last night. He spoke about Joseph and Emma for about 40 minutes and then entertained questions from the audience for another 40 minutes. While his insights on Joseph and Emma were interesting, I found the questions more fascinating, because they reflected a lot of the issues I blog about.

For those who don’t know, Richard Bushman is the author of Rough Stone Rolling, the 2005 biography of Joseph Smith that has become the definitive account of the prophet’s life as told from the viewpoint of a faithful historian. I took advantage of the opportunity to have him autograph my copy and was not the only one in the audience who waited in line to do so.

Open and honest discussion

It was wonderful to see so many people interested in learning more about this great man and the beginnings of the Mormon Church. Every time he finished answering a question a dozen more hands shot up. We could have been there for several more hours. I think that goes to show you how much we as a people appreciate someone who has studied the prophet’s life in such detail.

There were many questions that focused on the process of translating, the Urim and Thummim, the seer stone in the hat, polygamy, the three witnesses and the eight witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, the martyrdom, succession, Book of Abraham translation, Mountain Meadows massacre and folk magic. He welcomed every question and encouraged us to ask even the most difficult ones.

A well-qualified historian

One of the most refreshing comments I heard was his expression of appreciation to the church, specifically to the church historian’s office, Marlin K. Jensen and Richard E. Turley for the recent publication of Massacre at Mountain Meadows. He then said that he hoped that the church would do the same with the issue of polygamy, treating it openly and with historical accuracy.

Burt what impressed me most about the evening was the obvious fact that Richard Bushman is a highly respected historian who probably understands the beginnings of Mormonism as well as or better than anyone else. Besides being the co-general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers, he chairs the board of directors of the Mormon Scholars Foundation.  He knows early church history.

Serving faithfully in the church

And yet, Richard Bushman has served as a bishop, a stake president, a patriarch and is currently a sealer in the Los Angeles temple.  I would say that he is a faithful, believing Latter-day Saint, in spite of everything he knows about early church history.  I bring this up specifically to make a point about a common response to my essays and how I can still believe when I know this stuff.

I recently had someone ask me how I was able to do what I do – serve faithfully in the church – in spite of all that I know about, as he called it, “the more disturbing facts of the origins of Mormonism.”  I think maybe he might want to redirect that question to someone like Richard Bushman who knows so much more than I do and yet has been a faithful believer all his life.

Believing in spite of knowing

This individual asked, “How do you reconcile your belief and what the church teaches, with the history of things like the origins of the temple ceremony, polygamy, first vision contradictions, development of the story of the restoration of the priesthood, and other issues?”  I answered him privately in an email but have been pondering this whole idea of believing in spite of knowing.

Frankly, it perplexes me. I think I have expressed this same sentiment several times in previous essays every time it comes up. What is so hard about studying and understanding our very early church history, warts and all, and then continuing to believe that Joseph Smith was an instrument in the hands of God to bring about the restoration of the gospel and his church in the latter days?

Shocked by our history

Are we supposed to be shocked, dismayed and overwhelmed with doubt every time we discover some new fact about the early days of the church?  For example, last night we were reminded that beer and wine were used by the early saints, and sometimes even whiskey.  Today, we would be shocked if we learned that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles drank a glass of wine.

Yet in volume IV, page 120 of the History of the Church on the date of April 17 1840 we read, “This day the Twelve blessed and drank a bottle of wine at Penworthan, made by Mother Moon forty years before.”  Things were different back then, weren’t they?  The Word of Wisdom had been received in 1833 but was not binding upon the saints as a commandment like it is today.

History not being hidden

When Fanny Alger was brought up by Brother Bushman last night as an example of an early failed attempt by Joseph to obey the law of plural marriage, I’ll bet there were a few people in the audience who did not know that Joseph had married this sixteen year old girl in 1833. The revelation on celestial marriage had been received in 1831 but Joseph was hesitant to obey.

For some reason, the idea that Joseph participated in plural marriage is supposed to be shocking to us. This continues to be one of the most common tactics of our critics – to try to shock us with facts that are supposedly being hidden from us by our modern church leaders.  Nothing could be further from the truth. We are always being encouraged to study our history and learn the facts.

Selling the Book of Mormon Copyright

Another example that our critics like to throw at us is the failed attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Canada. Until recently, the only source for this event was the memory of David Whitmer who was not present when Joseph sent the brethren on their mission.  Joseph never said that it must have been a false revelation as Whitmer claimed he said upon their return.

We’re then supposed to conclude that if we can’t trust a revelation from Joseph then how are we supposed to know what is revelation from God. I’m not an apologist but I’m grateful that there are people who dig into these things to get the facts and present them for our review.  Of course, the same facts can be presented in favorable or unfavorable light, depending on where you go.

Consider carefully the source

For example, you can read the story of the copyright mission to Canada on MormonThink as supposed evidence that even Joseph Smith didn’t know when revelations were from God and when they were from the devil.  Yet you can read the same account in greater clarity and detail from a more trustworthy and reliable source like FAIR and come away strengthened in faith.

We could go on and on with hundreds of things that are supposed to be shocking to us modern believers of the faith because they seem so out of character with what we’ve been taught about Joseph or other leaders of the early LDS church. If we are bothered by something, then we need to do our homework and get all the facts as part of the process of confirming truth for ourselves.

Get the facts straight

If I were concerned upon reading that Joseph Smith was supposed to have said that even he didn’t know when a prophecy came from the Lord or that he is supposed to have said that a revelation he received must have come from the devil, as David Whitmer said he did, then I would want to read more about this and would be very careful about the source that I study.

Because if I believed that Joseph really said this, then that might lead me to conclude that if even prophets have a hard time understanding revelation, how can I really be expected to understand or know the truth of revelations that come to me, especially revelation that I think is telling me that the church itself is true? Do you see how important it is to get the facts of certain matters?

The Joseph Smith Papers

Of course Joseph never said that he must have received a false revelation.  In fact, according to more recent information discovered, the brethren who went on the mission to Canada in an attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon felt that they were successful on their mission and that the Lord was pleased with their efforts. The promised sale was conditional.

I’m grateful for brethren like Richard Bushman, who are helping to bring us the Joseph Smith papers. In volume 1 of the Manuscript Revelation Books, we have the full copy of the mission to Canada revelation. It can be read there. The criticism that Joseph later claimed that the revelation had not come from God is in all likelihood the product of a false memory by David Whitmer.

We can believe the prophet

As I wrote in a previous essay, I believe it is our lifelong pursuit to understand revelation and to come to know how the Lord communicates with each of us. We can rely on the promises of the Lord to lead us, guide us and walk beside us because we have the gift of the Holy Ghost. I hope we cherish this gift and live worthy of the constant companionship of this promised revelator.

Joseph Smith knew when the Lord was inspiring him and so did most of the brethren who were with him at the time when he received revelation. We can trust that the Lord will help us to have the assurances we need to believe in the mission of the prophet Joseph Smith. Someday, we will meet Brother Joseph and if we still have questions about his life we can ask them to him directly.

Choosing to Act with Certainty


William Shakespeare was arguably the most influential writer in all of English literature. One of his plays, Hamlet, seems to have become so influential that it has profoundly affected the course of Western literature and culture even after 400 years. From Hamlet, I have chosen three themes that Shakespeare developed so beautifully: 1) The impossibility of certainty, 2) The complexity of action and 3) The mystery of life and death. These ideas are further advanced in Tom Stoppard’s existentialist work, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Through absurdity, we are lead to believe that 1) The world is incomprehensible, 2) We are insignificant and incapable of making meaningful choices and 3) We are but players on a stage.

The very purpose of life

In effect, Stoppard’s ideas are the same as Shakespeare’s, illustrated with an equal amount of wit, but in a much more bleak and sarcastic style. I dispute these ideas and in contrast, it is my contention that 1) We can choose what we believe about and do with our lives, 2) We have power to act and can cause things to happen and 3) We can be certain about our choices to act in this life. In fact, making choices and acting upon those choices is the very purpose of life. The process of choosing and acting brings great meaning and fulfillment to our lives and is of significant value to our mental health and happiness. It is by not acting that we forfeit opportunities for growth.

Removing doubt from our lives

When the ghost appears to Hamlet and makes him swear to avenge his father’s murder, Hamlet does not seek that vengeance right away. Hamlet is not sure that he believes the ghost is who he says he is or if he is telling the truth. He is uncertain. He is placed in a difficult situation and wants to be certain that Claudius is guilty before taking action. In an effort to gather support for his sworn course of action, he feigns madness and causes actions that will help him ascertain the veracity of the events related by the ghost. He asks the players to change the production so he can watch the reaction of Claudius when he sees his crime revealed in dramatic form. These are the actions of a very thoughtful and intelligent man.  It is obvious that his madness is an act. So it is not so impossible to be certain about things. Perhaps it just takes a little time and planning. A little later Hamlet witnesses Claudius confess his crime in prayer, thus his doubts are removed.

Dealing with uncertainty

In response to the confusion expressed by Guildenstern at the incomprehensibility of the events unfolding around him, the Player in Act II of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead says, “Uncertainty is the normal state. You’re nobody special.” Tom Stoppard purposefully demonstrates for us that Guildenstern does not have all the information he needs to make sense of the world around him. Obviously, Stoppard is relating that we are all in the same boat in that we also do not know of everything in the script, so to speak, except for the small part we play.

To act or be acted upon

Of course we are not really in the same boat as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in that we live in the real world where we can seek out and obtain more information if we chose to do so. They are only actors, figments of the imagination of Shakespeare and Stoppard, with no control over their lives.  In a sense, they are being acted upon by the whims of the authors. With their limited viewpoint, life does seem incomprehensible and impossible to be certain about anything.  On the other hand, we can discover, learn and choose to be certain in our beliefs about life around us.

Philosophies and belief systems

When the Player in Act III of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead says, “Life is a gamble, at terrible odds—if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it,” he is implying that the universe is unfair and does not discriminate between good people and bad; that rewards and punishments are entirely random. But is the world such a chaotic place as Stoppard seems to believe it is as expressed through the words of the Player? We go to great effort to create meaning in our lives, developing belief systems and philosophies that give us comfort and a sense of order. It’s true that we cannot control the elements and we cannot control what other people say or do, but we, all of us, have created philosophies or adopted religious ideas to help us cope with the seeming disorder and confusion. Thus, we create our own sense of order and fairness, especially if we look at this life as only a small part of our existence, a mere blip on the timeline of eternity.

To be or not to be

In what may be the most famous speech in the English language, Hamlet examines the mystery of life and death, weighing the moral ramifications of living and dying. “To be, or not to be,” he poses; to live, or not to live. Is it nobler to suffer a life full of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” or to seek to end one’s suffering through death? He compares death to sleep and thinks of the end to pain, suffering and uncertainty that it might bring. In fact, he decides that it would be better to die than to live with the heartache and shocks of life.

Philosophical inquiry not enough

But then he considers the afterlife and the dread of possibly trading one miserable existence for something unknown but conceivably worse. He concludes that this dread makes “cowards of us all,” and so we thus continue to suffer through lovesickness, hard work, political oppression and a host of other undesirable afflictions common to all in this life. This speech connects several of the main themes of the play, including the idea of uncertainty, inability to act and the mystery of death.  Hamlet is deeply passionate and relentlessly logical but he has demonstrated for us the difficulty of knowing truth through philosophical inquiry alone.  There must be another way.

The power to act

There is a better way. When we are presented with something new or different from what we previously believed, we can choose to believe it or to reject it. When we choose to believe a piece of information, a theory, a philosophy or even a religion, we then have the power to act upon our new belief, thus causing results either within ourselves or the world around us.  We have that power because we are agents unto ourselves.  We can cause things to happen of our own free will.  In effect, it is the ultimate in scientific inquiry and the empirical method.  Once we act or cause action, we can then see the results for ourselves.  We then have knowledge.  We can now be certain about our choices to act in this life based on the results they bring about.

Experience brings knowledge

Let’s apply this to Hamlet. Presented with the news from the ghost that his father had been murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, he decided to believe it, at least partially, but also decided to obtain greater evidence. He caused the players to act as accusers which rattled Claudius into a confession overheard by our hero. Hamlet then had confirming knowledge, obtained by his own actions. He no longer needed to believe what the ghost said. He was certain of this thing.  He acted upon his belief and learned something for himself through his own experiences. He no longer needed to believe what someone else said was true. He now had a personal knowledge.

Ask the right questions

Now let’s apply this to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as presented by Tom Stoppard. These confused gentlemen are small players in the big picture, but we are made privy to some of their thoughts and actions while they are not on stage. When they encounter the Player, we sense that they have an opportunity to learn more about their purpose and meaning from him as he seems to know far more about what is going on than he reveals. If only the pair would ask the right questions, they might get some answers. Alas, they do not and continue to march through the entire book just as confused and bewildered as they began. Because they do not actively seek understanding from a potentially knowledgeable source, they therefore have nothing in which to believe or act upon. Consequently, they are unable to make any significant choices and obtain no confirming knowledge to make sense out of their life. They die meaningless deaths.

Choose what we believe

Finally, let’s apply this to us. We come into this world with no knowledge of the purpose or meaning of our lives. Over time, we are presented with a multitude of explanations, beliefs and philosophies to explain the events that are going on around us. Unlike players or actors on a stage who have no control of their lives, we have been given the ability to makes choices and act upon our beliefs. For example, we can choose to believe that there is purpose and meaning to life and that there is someone who knows the beginning from the end. Acting upon this belief, we seek for more knowledge from others who profess similar beliefs. Again, we are presented with choices as some will claim that their answers are the best. They invite us to act upon their beliefs as well as their requests to support them, often financially. They even invite us to participate in their cause in spreading their views to others.

Act upon our beliefs

Choosing to believe something and then acting upon that belief gives us experience. We can then decide if we like the results of our experiment. We can be certain that something is of value or not based upon our own experience. In the process, we learn a lot about ourselves. We discover what will satisfy us and what makes us happy. We rise to the level of our own desires for knowledge. The critical part of the process is to take action. Unless we act upon our beliefs we can never know for ourselves if it is of any value to us. For example, someone may tell you that seeing a Shakespeare play is an enjoyable and enlightening experience. But unless you go see one for yourself, you will never know. Similarly, the best way to learn something about a life philosophy or religion is to participate in activities that practitioners of that way of life follow.

We can be certain

We can choose what we want to believe, act upon those beliefs and then be certain for ourselves if those beliefs have merit or value. Life does not have to be so complex, uncertain or mysterious, especially if we reduce it to a serious of choices and actions. We choose to believe that an education is of value and act upon that belief by paying for an education and doing the hard work required to get a degree. We are then certain of the value of an education. We may decide that it was a waste of time and money or we may choose to believe that our life has been improved and enhanced by our achievement. After all, most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. The world is not so incomprehensible.  We are significant and more than just actors on a stage.  We are here to gain knowledge through our choices in life.

A Website for the Average Mormon


I’ve been reading the arguments on MormonThink.com off and on for several years now.  I have a lot of respect for the individuals behind the site, even though most of them choose to be anonymous.  I am confident that I have been visited by several of the contributors there or at least by those who read their site and others like it such as Ex Mormon and Post Mormon.

I am by no means a scholar or intellectual.  I think I’m pretty smart and that I’m pretty good with logic.  After all, I have made a living for thirty years demystifying computers for others.  But I know there are a lot of people out there who are smarter than I am and who have the academic credentials to prove it.  I like to think that I’m just a regular, average, typical Latter-day Saint.

I like smart, thinking people and especially people who present logical conclusions well, either in writing or verbally.  Critical thinking is a skill that I am constantly striving to improve.  I confess that I am impressed when someone can speak or write with confidence, especially when it comes to doctrines and practices of the church.  That’s why I continue to take college classes each year.

Choosing to believe

But I’d like to take exception with one of the common threads I find in the essays on sites like MormonThink.com.  It has to do with choosing to believe.  The concept of voluntary or involuntary belief has been discussed by philosophers for millennia.  But it’s such a basic part of how I deal with the sort of intellectual issues on Mormon Think that I want to share it with you.

I disagree with those who contend that beliefs are not voluntary acts of will.  There is no doubt in my mind that I am a voluntarist when it comes to my beliefs about the church and our history.  This is especially true in light of, or in spite of all the fascinating historical facts that I have read over the years that are just not taught to or even known by the majority of the Latter-day Saints.

Invariably I have found that those who label themselves atheists also claim to be involuntarists.  I am coming to the conclusion that those who embrace the title of Ex Mormon, Post Mormon or Former Mormon also see their position as involuntary.  “It was inevitable,” they say, “based on what I have learned, I had no other choice but to now disbelieve what I had formally believed.”

Encouraging Faith

Well, that’s where we differ.  I have spent many years studying the same material that has been so troubling and bothersome to so many of my fellow seekers of knowledge.  I can honestly say that my faith has been strengthened and my belief deepened that Joseph was who he claimed to be – a prophet of God – and that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be – Holy Scripture.

I have no doubt that there are many in the church, who, if they studied the same material we have written about on our blogs and websites, would be absolutely freaked out and would soon leave the church.  They are either social Mormons only or are not strong in their desire to know more about the history of our church.  I don’t think these kinds of people are your typical Mormons.

What’s missing from sites like MormonThink.com, and what you’ll find in abundance on the official church web sites, is the role of faith, and especially encouraging faith.  There is way too much emphasis on the intellect and not enough focus on feelings.  The section on Testimony and Spiritual Witness relegates the role of feelings of faith as something to be dissected and derided.

Announcing new website

That’s reason why I decided to start my own website, LatterdayCommentary.com.  This blog is hosted on that domain, which I registered years ago.  It’s not much to look at today.  In fact, I almost consider it a prototype.  I’ve put together some commentary and links to my essays on some of the same subjects that you will find on MormonThink.com.  It will grow with time.

I know that I’m just one of thousands of LDS members who have a website where they share their beliefs and testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  I like to think that I’m not much different from your average Mormon.  I grew up as a member of the church but I come from a convert family.  And my viewpoint is definitely that of a laid-back California boy.

I’ve been happy as a member of the LDS Church all my life.  I loved my mission and I love going to the temple.  I love General Conference and I love serving in a local Bishopric.  I hope you’ll take a look at my website and then come back here and make some suggestions as to how I can make it better and more useful in promoting the doctrines of our LDS faith to the world.

There is no middle ground


In the priesthood session of the April 2003 General Conference, President Hinckley delivered a landmark address on the subject of loyalty.   In his remarks he said, “Each of us has to face the truth of the matter—either the church is true, or it is a fraud.  There is no middle ground.  It is the Church and kingdom of God or it is nothing.”

An earlier prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote something similar in the Doctrines of Salvation:Mormonism, as it is called, must stand on the story of Joseph Smith.  He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen.  There is no middle ground.”

There can be no gray area

Referring to the historical events of the area around Palmyra, New York, President Hinckley said: “They either happened or they did not. There can be no gray area, no middle ground.”   In a similar manner, Apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “Joseph Smith must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else as a charlatan of the first order.”

President Benson endorsed this all or nothing view.  He said, “Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon…if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church.”

They were all wrong

Such black and white statements go all the way back to the beginnings of the LDS church.  When the prophet Joseph asked God which church he should join, he “was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong.”  If all the churches of Joseph’s day were wrong, what does that say about the numerous churches of our day?

The Lord later said to Joseph in Section one of the Doctrine and Covenants that the church Joseph organized was “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.”  If you look, you can find dozens of similar statements by prophets and apostles throughout the history of our church, all very bold in their declarations.

Divisive and exclusivist

Of course, statements like these are labeled divisive and exclusivist by many people outside our church, but also, increasingly by members on the fringe of the church, also known as the disaffected Mormon underground.  The DAMU is nothing new.  There have been cultural Mormons and Jack Mormons throughout the history of our church.

Of all the objections to the church that I have encountered over the past few years I have been blogging, this one seems to be the most common and the most offensive.  For some, it is an extremely difficult proposition to accept this black or white, all or nothing approach to truth in religion.  I have spent considerable time pondering why this is so.

Good and truth in all religions

Joseph Smith taught that we accept truth from whatever source it may come.  Joseph F. Smith said, “We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure…”  Modern prophets have said that there is much good and truth in all churches and religions.  This statement doesn’t seem too limiting.

President Hinckley: “We recognize the good in all churches. We recognize the value of religion generally. We say to everyone: live the teachings which you have received from your church. We invite you to come and learn from us, to see if we can add to those teachings and enhance your life and your understanding of things sacred and divine.”

Something unique to add

What can the LDS faith add that is unique and will bless the lives of those who accept its teachings?  The most unique thing we offer can be found in the temples.  It is the sealing power that is exercised to unite families in an eternal bond that will remain in effect after this life is over.  That is an amazing claim that no other church can make.

We teach that the sealing power is a part of the priesthood authority that we claim was delivered to Joseph Smith via angelic messengers.  I don’t know of any other church that asserts that angels have come and ordained their leaders or conferred upon them keys and powers that will bind on earth and in heaven.  That is a fantastic declaration!

Our eternal nature

The older I get, the more important that claim becomes to me.  If I know nothing else, I know that there is a spiritual side of my existence.  I have had too many experiences of a spiritual nature that have helped me to understand this truth.  Others may claim that there is nothing more to man than skin, muscle and bones, but I believe differently.

Because of that very basic and core fundamental belief about myself, I am concerned about what my purpose is in life and what happens after death.  I am so grateful to be a part of a community of faith, a church that believes as I do that life is eternal and that what we do with our lives will have a significant impact on the quality of life hereafter.

Importance of the temples

That belief in life eternal is not unique, but the idea that we can do something to ensure that the relationships we enjoy here continue in the hereafter is very unique indeed.  I have had dialog with visitors to my blog who claim that God would never be so mean as to separate a loving couple who cherished and served each other all their mortal lives.

I’m not going to point you to any statements from church leaders that teach otherwise but I will say this: before you go making claims about how God should behave, you might want to be absolutely sure of what God has said on the subject.  I can’t think of anything about which I would want to be surer.  My eternal happiness depends on it.

Book of Mormon is still the key

Back to the point of the essay and why prophets have said that there can be no middle ground when it comes to things like authority and revelation and Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  My mother, who was a convert to the church, once said to me that as an investigator, she could accept everything about it except the Book of Mormon.

It wasn’t until much later in life when she took an Institute class on the subject that she really began to understand just how important it is to our claims of divine origin.  I love the fact that we do not have the plates to “prove” the historicity of the book.  Prophets have taught that the Book of Mormon is a great sifter of those who are honest in heart.

The power of a divine witness

I know there are those who have said that they have tried and failed to obtain a witness of the veracity of the Book of Mormon.  I have had dialog with people both inside and outside the church who have struggled with this.  I confess that I cannot offer a perfect empathy because I received a witness of the truthfulness of the book many years ago.

Because of that divine manifestation to me, not just once but on several occasions, I have never doubted the Book of Mormon, or the claims of the prophet Joseph Smith. I understand why the prophets have said that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion and why our claims of divinity rest upon the veracity of that book.  I also agree with the statement that the strength of this church is in the testimony of each member.

The promise of personal revelation

One of my evangelical visitors once called this security that I feel, the Mormon bubble.  He says it is not logical but it makes perfect sense to me.  You can throw out all kinds of arguments about the Book of Abraham, Polyandry, Post-manifesto plural marriage, the Kinderhook Plates or any one a few dozen other things that can be found on the Internet.

None of them bothered me when I first learned about them and none of them do now.  I have written essays on dozens of these objections and have come to the conclusion that they really aren’t the real problem with why people doubt or leave the church.  In my opinion, those who struggle with these doubts have not received personal revelation.

Summary and conclusion

I know that a testimony is a very sacred and personal subject.  I also know that making a generalization like I just did will bring all kinds of protests.  But I stand by it as truth.  If a man has received a witness from God that the Book of Mormon is true then God has a responsibility to help that man as he goes through the ensuing trials of that testimony.

I know that God will help the honest in heart keep their testimonies strong and vibrant.  If we study we are going to find out things that will test our witness.  We will then have the opportunity to strengthen and deepen it.  That’s what opposition is for.  We do not have to wallow in doubt.  But those who doubt are welcome while they work things out.

Rachel Esplin video continues to be a hit


Last November, LDS Harvard undergrad Rachel Esplin made viral video news with her incredibly articulate and intelligent responses to some very difficult questions about the Mormon faith. She was asked whether she wears sacred undergarments, if Mormonism is a cult, how she views the role of women in her church, and what her relationship is with Jesus. For not having served a mission, this young 20-year old is an amazing missionary for the LDS faith.

The interview is twenty minutes long and something you may enjoy viewing as part of a Family Home Evening or perhaps even burning it to a DVD and sharing it in a Sunday School lesson about how to share the gospel in today’s media savvy world. Rachel was on the debate team in her high school and her mother teaches at BYU Idaho. But still, this young woman did a better job than I ever could at responding to difficult questions with poise and confidence.

You may also be interested in viewing some of the hundreds of comments that accompanied just one typical news piece covering the popularity of the video as it appeared in the Boston Globe.  I think the very first comment is excellent as it helps us to see how the world perceives us as being closed and secretive.  Especially note the tenor of the comments that focus on the claims of exclusivity.  This continues to be a difficult point for many to deal with both within and without the church.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2120177&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Day of Faith: Personal Quests for a Purpose – 3. Rachel Esplin from Harvard Hillel on Vimeo.

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